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The Islamic Republic of Mauritania (French Mauritanie, official Arabic Al-Djumhuriyya al-Islamiyya al-Mawritaniyya) is located in West Africa and covers an area of 1 030 700 km². This makes the country almost three times as big as Germany. With a 754 km long coast, Mauritania borders on the Atlantic Ocean in the west. With four countries, the republic has immediate borders: Western Sahara in the northwest, Algeria in the northeast, Mali in the east and southeast and Senegal in the south.
About two thirds of the country is covered by deserts. In the Sahara desert, a distinction can be made between scree deserts (hamitic “Reg”) and sandy deserts, which also have shifting dunes north of the 18th parallel. In the south, the Sahel zone joins. From the large dune areas and a basin landscape in the central east, large plateaus follow to the west, which drop steeply to the coastal plain. The highest elevation in Mauritania is the Kedia Idjil, at 915 m, on the border with Western Sahara.
The only important river in the country is Senegal, which at the same time forms the border with its southern neighbour Senegal. Senegal originates in Mali from the union of the rivers Bafing and Bakoy and flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Saint-Louis. Together with one of the two source rivers, the Bafing, which originates in Guinea, it is 1,430 km long and navigable all year round inland from Senegal’s Podor. The fertile alluvial regions of the country are located along its course. The rest of the country is characterised by deeply cut wadis that cross the plateaus. The rare rainfalls that are discharged via the wadis accumulate in a few lakes, while in the deserts of the north and east rainfalls are too rare to form such waterholes.
According to the Constitution of 2006, Mauritania is an Islamic presidential republic. The President (since August 2009 Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz) is the sole bearer of executive power: he appoints the government (since August 2008 Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdhaf) and can dismiss it at any time. The president has a five-year term and may be re-elected.
The parliament consists of two chambers: the National Assembly and the Senate. The National Assembly (Majlis al-Watani) has 95 MPs elected by direct universal suffrage for five years. The Senate (Majlis al-Shuyukh) has 56 senators, 53 of whom are elected indirectly in the administrative districts of municipal councils. One senator represents Mauritanians in the Arab world, one senator represents Mauritanians living in sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world. One third of the Senate is elected every two years for a term of six years.
The country is divided into twelve regions and the capital district, each headed by a governor. The twelve regions are in turn divided into 44 départements.
Mauritania is one of the poorest countries in the world. 42% of the population live below the poverty line. About half of the Mauritanians live in a traditional rural way of life. In the region on the river Senegal as settled farmers, in the north as nomadic cattle breeders, the Mauritanians primarily produce goods for their own needs, whereby grain must also be imported. Sheep and goats are mainly bred in the north, camels also in the centre of the country, especially in the Adrar region. The farmers grow rice, millet, maize, potatoes, peanuts and vegetables, especially in the flooded area of Senegal. In the oases date palms are cultivated and gum arabic is extracted. An important part of the domestic economy is fishing, which can fall back on rich fishing grounds in the 200 nautical mile zone. 16 % of the gross domestic product (GDP) is generated in agriculture.
50% of GDP comes from the industrial sector. Food and iron ore processing companies dominate here. In particular, the mining of iron ore – Mauritania is the third largest African producer – is of particular importance, as its sale accounts for 50% of export revenues. The known oil deposits have not yet been developed. The most important imported goods are food, industrial and consumer goods as well as machinery and vehicles. Even after independence, France remains the most important import trading partner, followed by the USA and China. Fish and fishery products as well as iron ore are exported. Exports now flow primarily to Japan.
The most important coastal ports are Nouadhibou near the border with Western Sahara and Nouakchott in the south of the country. International airports are located in Nouakchott, Nouadhibou and Atar. The infrastructure is poorly developed; of the 8,100 kilometres of roads, just under 1,700 are paved.